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Sterling K. Brown Honors a Teacher Who He Would ‘Run Through a Brick Wall’ For

5 minute read

“Mrs. Bull was that first adult who spoke to me about life,” said TIME 100 honoree, This Is Us star and Emmy award winner Sterling K. Brown of a teacher who inspired him throughout his life during the TIME 100 Gala Tuesday night.

Read Sterling K. Brown’s full remarks below:

I’m a man of faith. Essentially, I believe myself and all of these other bright lights in this room with me to be spiritual beings having a temporary human existence. I strive to live my life in a way in which the fruits of the spirit are readily apparent; those fruits being love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control.

Now, at one point in time I thought you had to be a Christian to have full access to the divine, but the woman I choose to toast today is a devout atheist and simultaneously more Christ‑like than most Christians I know. One of the greatest gifts you can give to anyone is the gift of your presence, and that’s exactly what Barbara Bull gave to me. Mrs. B was my high school advisor and middle school algebra teacher. She wasn’t just good at her job, she was passionate about it, and not just for the subject matter, but for the students that she taught as well. At her office hours, which she routinely held for about two hours every day after school, she loved to see her students go from their “huh” to that “ahhh” moment, and would patiently guide you along that path until you reached your destination. Mrs. Bull was an early riser. When she was 59 years young, she would swim a mile every day before school began. She was from San Francisco and walked the halls of St. Louis Country Day School with a swagger that no one else could even come close to. She wore beautiful scarves, dope‑ass glasses, and a slightly unsensible heel, and like a delighted Pavlovian dog a quiet smile would cross my countenance as I heard the clickety‑clack of my favorite teacher approach the room.

Mrs. Bull was that first adult who spoke to me about life. When most folks in my family didn’t like to discuss finances ‑‑ I don’t know if you know this, black folks don’t like to talk about money ‑‑ Mrs. Bull would highlight your boy about the stock market and how she was able to double her income by playing it. Haven’t quite been that successful as of yet.

While I was afraid to go anywhere where I couldn’t speak the language, she shared with me her passion for travel both within these United States and internationally and how exposure to different cultures expanded her world view. And in a society where very few are authentic with young people about the complexity of adult life, Mrs. B would frankly discuss the difficulties of her marriage in a way that hopefully would help me avoid duplicating similar negative circumstances that she was then navigating with her husband at the time.

She came to every football game. She came to every basketball game, at least the ones that didn’t conflict with her office hours. She came to every play. Hold on one second. I’m sorry. She gave me nothing but encouragement in anything that I chose to explore, and I was always so happy to see her, that she cared enough to be there, to be present.

The first time I dunked a basketball, I ran through the school until I found Mrs. Bull, and, “Mrs. Bull, I did it. I dunked, baby.” She was like, “Very good, Kelby. Good for you.”

When I got a hundred on my geometry test sophomore year or a hundred on my BC calculus test senior year, the first person I had to tell was Mrs. B. I like to keep it 100 for her. Mrs. Bull loved Apple computers, and outside of my brief initial relationship with my Dell Inspiron 6000, I was frugal, y’all, I rocked Apples. Mrs. Bull drove nothing but Audis. I drive a Volkswagen. I don’t like the peacock quite so much, but it’s the same family. Side note, please fix the diesel and bring it back to the United States. Trying to be green. Trying to be green.

I remember asking Mrs. B in the ninth grade where she went to school, and I remember thinking to myself, if I could kind of set myself on the same trajectory as this woman maybe I have the opportunity to live an extraordinary life as well. She said, “I want to Stanford.” I said, “I think I’m going to go there.” And she said, “Well, you have to work hard.” I said, “Okay.” I went to Stanford.

Mrs. B. is now 83 years young. She has been retired for some time now, but she still rises early every morning for her daily mile swim. It was never necessary for Mrs. Bull to tell me what she believed. She was never inclined to preach to me or mandate that I see the world through the same prism as herself. She simply led a life well lived. And in walking the walk, she influenced the trajectory of my life in ways she and I could never have imagined. She filled me up with so much love; I felt like I could run through a brick wall, and I wanted to do it for her.

To Barbara Jenkins Bull, now Kraus, thank you for sharing your divinity with me.

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